Victor shook his head. “That’s wrong.” The tentacle that was formerly the woman’s leg reached up to the fallboard. “No, wait!” Victor yelled. “That was wrong. That wasn’t the tempo.”
“What?” hissed The Dragon Lady. Her tentacles squeezed Victor’s chest.
“You counted too slow,” said Victor, breathlessly, as he watched the third tentacle caressing the fallboard. “The page says ninety-six beats per minute—you didn’t do it. You counted too slow.”
The Dragon Lady’s eyes narrowed; she leaned her head toward Victor, her chin passing just over the long, upright shard of steel embedded in the piano stool, and flicked her tongue at him. “Too slow, you say?”
Victor strained under the crush of the tentacles. He nodded. “That wasn’t ninety-six beats per minute. You were wrong.”
The Dragon Lady recoiled and hissed; the horns on her head sprouted higher. “How dare you! Need I remind you that I am the piano teacher. For thirty-seven years I have taught music. I studied at the conservatorium, I performed at the state theatre. And you, you ill-mannered, uncoordinated child, have the gall to question me?”
Victor’s eyes became fierce. “Well, let me remind you, that I am the proprietor of Furbank’s Fine Metronomes, the best metronomes money can buy. Six years I’ve spent trying to sell those worthless devices, and if the whole colossal disaster has taught me one thing, it’s how to recognise tempo. And that, Mrs O’Donnell, was not ninety-six beats per minute. More like eighty-eighty—ninety at most. And I can prove it.”
“You lie!” snapped The Dragon Lady.
Victor shook his head. “It’s true. I can show you. If you’ll just let me get something from my pocket—”
“Never!” The Dragon Lady tightened her tentacles around Victor.
“Please,” he groaned. “Just let me show you… In my pocket…”
“You missed your cue, you failed to play the music.”
The tentacles fixed Victor’s hands to the piano keyboard, beneath the blade of the fallboard. “Wait!” he gasped. “You said it had to be just as it was written on the page. It was wrong… your count was wrong. Let me get to my pocket… I can show you.”
“It’s too late, boy,” hissed The Dragon Lady, with a sadistic grin. Her tentacle took hold of the fallboard. “Here ends the lesson.”
Victor squirmed and screamed, watching the fallboard, and his hands beneath it awaiting slaughter on the piano keys. The Dragon Lady tormented him, delaying the execution… Agonising seconds ticked by… It was quite a pause…
His heart thumping, Victor glanced aside: The Dragon Lady’s head was bowed slightly, and a look of horror filled her hideous face. “Wh… what are you doing here?” she whispered.
Behind her, a rippling mirage came into view, becoming clearer by the second like a polaroid photograph. It was a human figure in black clothing; the figure appeared about the same age as Mrs O’Donnell before she morphed into her beastly form. The figure grew more vivid, and three-dimensional, until a physical body inhabited the room. “Gary?” said Victor.
“Hi Victor,” said Gary, with a smile, as he held Keith’s lost water pistol to the back of The Dragon Lady’s head.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said The Dragon Lady.
Gary glared and nudged her head further forward with the muzzle of the small plastic weapon. “I can be wherever I want,” he said.
The Dragon Lady gnashed her teeth but made no move against him. “You aren’t supposed to interfere,” she hissed, keeping her head lowered. “I have caught a victim, and he is mine to do with as I please—you cannot take him from me. The curse forbids it.”
“It’s my curse,” said Gary, “and I may do with you as I please.” The Dragon Lady trembled. Gary turned to Victor with a look of regret. “Sorry, Victor, she’s right—I can’t interfere.”
Victor stammered a few feeble syllables; The Dragon Lady glance sidelong at him, a wicked grin turning up the corner of her mouth.
Gary shrugged. “This is the best I can do. I hope it helps.” He turned to The Dragon Lady. “Before I give him to you, let him show you what’s in his pocket.”
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